for mental health services, as the biggest system-wide challenge to achieving permanency for children. The second challenge was posed by case manager turn- over which leads to a DFCS workforce that lacks ex- perience, knowledge of the system, knowledge of in- dividual cases, and a slowing of decision-making and case processing. Like case managers, SAAGs rounded out the list with the lack of quality placements for teens and children with special needs.
At the conclusion of the year of study, the following fifteen policy recommendations are presented in an effort to help Georgia improve permanency outcomes for children in foster care.
#1: Make timely and detailed diligent searches a priority. Timely action is needed to locate relatives, provide relatives with notification about children in care, and follow-up with interested parties in order to provide the familial link between a child and possible avenues of placement and permanency.
#2: Limit the use of APPLA as a permanency plan. APPLA (another planned permanent living arrange- ment) can be a permanency plan only when prefer- able options (reunification, adoption, legal guardian- ship, and permanent placement with a relative) are unavailable. Specific criteria should be developed to guide case managers in selecting an APPLA plan. A review process should be developed to determine whether compelling reasons are appropriate and the plan is in the best interests of the child. The legal com- munity needs additional education about the require- ments for selecting APPLA under the ASFA guidelines.
#3: Ensure children have connections to family or other adults. Absent a court order that contact is not in the child’s best interest, a child should have a right to continued contact with committed relatives and non-relative adults. Even if relatives are unable to provide permanency, strident efforts should be made to foster and maintain familial relationships and rela- tive visitation. Fostering relationships with committed adults can begin with school officials, CASA workers, mentoring agencies, coaches, and church members.
#4: Involve children in permanency planning and Written Transitional Living Plans. Youth should play an active role in permanency planning and the devel- opment of their WTLP. Commitment to this concept is measurable by a reduction in boilerplate WTLP lan- guage and an increase in children signing their WTLP.
#5: Improve consistency and availability of Indepen- dent Living Program (ILP) Services. All eligible children should be educated about ILP services and the value of participation. Georgia should provide the same pro- grams and services to all foster children regardless of their county of residence.
#6: Improve education to children about the benefits of remaining in care beyond age 18. A specific pro- tocol should be developed to address how and when children are educated about remaining in care beyond age 18. Clear policies should also be established and conveyed to children about how they can be excluded from eligibility.
#7: Ensure children receive meaningful representa- tion and attend judicial proceedings. Children should have effective representation (including advocates) to participate in all judicial hearings and panel reviews and inform the court and DFCS of their needs. Georgia courts should consider policies which would ensure that children are actively participating in their own court proceedings.
#8: Improve legal advocacy for all parties involved in deprivation cases. Improvements in legal advoca- cy of parent attorneys, SAAGs and GALs will help to promote fair deprivation proceedings. Expanding the CASA network to all courts in Georgia would improve child advocacy practice for cold case children.
#9: Improve judicial oversight on permanency issues. Responsibility for the “best interests” of the child rests on the shoulders of the courts. Judges should hold all legal advocates to a high standard (required language in deprivation orders, timely hearings, and compliance with state and federal regulations). Juvenile court judges should continue to receive specialized train- ing in child welfare cases so they have the knowledge and expertise to properly ensure legal compliance on such matters. A state entity should provide “cold case lists” to all courts so that local efforts to manage cold cases can begin. A consistent approach to judicial re- view should be established for children whose parents voluntarily relinquish parental rights.
#10: Provide services and support to adoptive fami- lies to reduce adoption dissolution. Georgia should provide post-adoption mental health and other special services to children in adoptive families. Case manag- ers should be allowed the time to educate prospective adoptive families and be more involved with families and children prior to and after adoption. Increasing the DFCS emphasis on concurrent planning and expanding